Farr, Sutherland, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish # 50

This is a guide to the history and major genealogical records of Scotland as they pertain to the parish of Farr. To learn more about how to use these records to search for your ancestors, go to the Scotland: Research Strategies.

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FARR, a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 19 miles (W. by S.) from Thurso; containing the late quoad sacra district of Strathy. The name of Farr, or Far, as it is sometimes written, may be derived from the Gaelic word Faire, implying a "watch" or "sentinel," and doubtless arose in reference to the Dun, or circular tower, standing on the coast, about half a mile north of the parish church. The parish lies in the northern extremity of Scotland; it is bounded on the north by the Northern Ocean. The church, situated near the coast, is convenient for the population, the greater portion of whom reside in its vicinity, the remoter district being peopled only by an inconsiderable number of shepherds in the employ of the great sheep-farmers. It was erected in 1774, and is a plain building, with substantial walls, and seats about 750 persons. There is a government church at Strathy, ten miles east from the parish church, built in 1826, and accommodating about 350 persons. The members of the Free Church have also a place of worship.[1]

The parish appears to have been called Farr, for more than 400 years. The name is probably derived from the Gaelic word Faire, a watch or sentinel. It is bounded on the north by the Northern Ocean; on the east, by the parish of Reay in Caithness; on the south, by the parishes of Kildonan and Lairg; and on the west, by the parish of Tongue.

The nearest market-town is Thurso, thirty-two miles from this place.

The only printed accounts of the ancient state of the parish, are to be found in Sir Robert Gordon’s History of the Earldom of Sutherland, and in Mr. Robert Mackay’s History of the House and Clan of Mackay, published in 1829.

About 400 years ago, the Mackays began to make themselves conspicuous in this district as a clan. Farr and Strathnaver appear to have been the principle residence of the Mackays during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and part of the seventeeth centuries, and that clan is still the most numerous in the parish. After the Earls of Sutherland formed a marriage alliance with the Gordons, some of the clan came to reside in Strathnaver, so that at one period, perhaps a hundred years ago, there were few in the parish but Mackays and Gordons. They are still the most numerous names.

The Duke of Sutherland is the proprietor of this parish.

The census of 1831, compared with the return in 1790, shows a decrease of 400 in the population. This was owing to the introduction of the sheep-farming system. The people who had been removed from the interior in 1818 and 1819, when these great changes took place, are thickly settled along the sea-coast of the parish, in some instances about thirty lotters occupying the land formerly in the possession of twelve, and some of them placed on ground which had been formerly uncultivated.

The sheep-farmers rear the Cheviot or white-faced kind of sheep. The lotters have a breed of small Highland cattle; a few ponies of a similar description; and sheep of the black-faced kind.

The only parochial registers in existence are in a book in which the minutes of the kirk-session are kept; and another, in which births and marriages are recorded. The earliest entry in the first is in the year 1754; and in the second, in the year 1800.

The parish church is conveniently situated for the population who are now attached to it, since the erection of the government church. It stands close to the sea-coast, and is about thirty miles from some parts of the interior. It is seated for about 750. There is Government church and manse at Strathy, ten miles east from this parish. It accommodates about 350 sitters, thus in a parish, the population of which is about 2100, there is church accommodation for 1160 persons. There is no Dissenting chapel in the parish; and, with the exception of one shepherd from the borders, who is of the Anitburgher persuasion, and a shepherd’s wife from Lochaber, who is a Roman Catholic, there is not a dissenter of any description in the parish.

This account was written August 1834.

Source: New Statistical Account of Scotland for Farr, FHL book 941 B4sa, series 2, vol. 15.

Also available online at http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. Browse the scanned pages under ‘For non-subscribers,’ then search for the parish report.

Census Records
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A census is a count and description of the population, taken by the government, arranged by locality and by household. Read more about census records.

Here is a list of the Family History Library microfilm numbers for the census records of Farr as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available:

FHL Film Number
Surname Indexes
FHL 1042624
FHL 1042006
FHL 103918
FHL 104109
FHL 203405
6086688 (1fiche)
FHL 208621

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed onwww.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. To use it, you must register and pay a small access fee. All available censuses, 1841-1901, are indexed on this website. It may be easier for you to pay to use the website rather than access the separate indexes through the library.

Church Records
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The Established Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. Read more about church records.

Here are the pre-1855 records that exist for this parish.

Established Church—Old Parochial Registers[edit | edit source]

Record Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Births: 1790-1854 FHL 0990562 Item 4
Marriages: 1801-1854 FHL 0990562 Item 4
Deaths: No entries none


Condition of Original Registers—
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Index: For an index to these records, see Scotland’s People website, a pay-for-view website. The Scottish Church Records Index is also still available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Some records may also be indexed in other FamilySearch collections for Scotland.
Births: There are only eight entries prior to 1800. There are irregular entries throughout and only eight entries 1804–1819 on the first page after 1817.
Marriages: There is only one entry in 1803 and there are slight irregularities in the order of dates.
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records[edit | edit source]

The Kirk session was the court of the parish. The session was made up of the minister and the land owners and business men of the parish, chosen to serve on the session. The Kirk session dealt with moral issues, minor criminal cases, matters of the poor and education, matters of discipline, and the general concerns of the parish. Kirk session records may also mention births, marriages, and deaths.

Here is a list of the surviving Kirk session records for this parish:

The extent of records is unknown.

Nonconformist Church Records[edit | edit source]

A nonconformist church is any church that is not the Established church. Read more about nonconformity in Scotland in the article on the Scotland Church Records Union List.

Farr Free Church[edit | edit source]

David MacKenzie, minister of Farr, and nearly all his people, "came out" in 1843. For two years, the Duke of Sutherland, misled by his factors, persecuted the Free Church. After personally attending a Free Church service at Lairg in 1845, he made the factors change their attitude. The Farr congregation, which had for some time worshiped in a tent, then obtained a site on which a church, manse and schoolhouse were erected.
Membership: 1855, 500; 1900, 90.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

The extent of records is unknown.

Altnaharra Free Church[edit | edit source]

In this remote district of the parish of Farr, at the head of Strathnaver, the people, about 160 in number, all adhered to the Free Church in 1843. The minister of Farr gave them occasional services. The charge was sanctioned in 1869. Church and school had already been built, and a manse was in prospect. With the settlement of Mr. MacKay in 1871, the session records that "the thread of organized church life was resumed after a long and dreary gap of fifty-two years". The "gap" was caused by the great Strathnaver evictions in 1819, when, in a single day, Donald Sage, minister of the church which formerly stood at Achness, with 100 of his people, was ejected.
Membership: 1877, 47; 1900, 7.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source, including ministers.

No known pre–1855 records.

Civil Registration Records
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Government or civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (also called statutory records) began on January 1, 1855 in Scotland. Each parish has a registrar's office and large cities have several. The records are created by the registrars and copies are sent to the General Register Office in Edinburgh. Annual indexes are then created for the records for the whole country.

See the article on Scotland Civil Registration for more information and to access the records.

Probate Records
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Farr was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Caithness until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Dornoch. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. You must register on the website but use of the index to probate records, called 'Wills & Testaments,' is free. You may then purchase a copy of the document or, if the document is before 1823, it will be on microfilm at the Family History Library. To find the microfilm numbers, search in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Sutherland and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Caithness.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for Sutherland. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of Sutherland and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'

Read more about Scotland Probate Records.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 499-514. Adapted. Date accessed: 7 August 2014.

Return to Sutherland parish list.